Sunday, August 15, 2010

#6 The Secret Life of a Nutritionist

Because I am a nutritionist, people think I eat nothing but braised bean sprouts or that I spend an inordinate amount of time taking the personal eating inventory of all those around me. Sometimes if I am eating out with new acquaintances they will eye the menu nervously and then ask what I am ordering, imagining that I am carefully cataloging their every nutritional move for later dissection and harsh judgment. Mothers of my daughter’s friends regularly ask her what I eat and what it is like to live with a nutritionist.

“She has a huge sweet tooth, “ my 19 year old daughter, Tory will divulge conspiratorially. Then she will come home and lament the fact that her friends and their mothers are all obsessed with food. “It’s annoying,” she complains while rummaging through the refrigerator. “Do we have any sushi?”

“Did you tell them that we drink a pureed chard drink for breakfast?” I asked once, figuring it is always good to keep the mystique going though this is true.

“No, I told them you sometimes hide candy in your office drawer,” she says as she eyes the refrigerator contents critically. This is also true. “Did you make any salsa?”

I had.

The next morning, Miriam came to the office. She is 83 and a real firecracker but I had not seen her for over 8 months. Most of my clients drop by or call if there is a problem so while I was happy to see her, I was concerned something might have happened. “I spent Saturday at the emergency room,” she said without much preamble. “ I am dehydrated and look awful,” she continued. “What in the world are you drinking?”

It was chard, spinach, parsley, apples, blueberries and grapes Vitamixed into my morning drink.

“It looks awful,” she opined distracted for the moment. “I would never drink that.”

I assured her it was very tasty and asked if she wanted to try it.

“You would have to blindfold me first,” she replied. “It looks like pond scum.”

I started to laugh. “Well, it does,” she insisted unfazed. “So explain to me what these tests mean,” she demanded pulling out a stack of papers from her hospital visit. “My doctor won’t tell me anything.”

So, not everyone cares about what I eat and my personal consumption is not necessarily relevant to anyone else. Like most nutritionists, I have played extensively with my diet because it is interesting to me and I want to experience what I recommend. Through the years I have toyed with macrobiotic, raw, vegetarian and vegan diets. I have tried dairy free, gluten free and sugar free elimination routines. Most nutritionists I know are also diet dabblers.

In the end, we figure out what works for us, personally and develop a bag of tools for everyone else. For example, I consume almost no alcohol because it makes me tired but realize this experience has limited application to most people in my practice. On the other hand, I avoid artificial colors, sweeteners and flavors and eat plenty of fruits/ vegetables and believe these principles have general application. Most other factors, especially when it comes to food avoidance, applies to some people but not others. Other nutritionists I know imbibe with abandon, are vegetarians or are not, smoke pot, avoid hemp, eat cheese, don’t eat cheese; We are pretty much all over the place in diet and personality.

The one consistent factor is a vast majority of us are not obese. We are an intimidating group of thin-ish women in a society rift with distorted body images and unhealthy relationships to food. I believe this is the real source of questions from the mothers of Tory’s friends. They do not ask me directly what I eat because I might ask them back. Better to secretly compare what they are eating to someone who, in theory, knows what they are doing and is thin. The question they are really asking is the dietary equivalent of, “does this skirt make me look fat?” That is, does my diet look like it is making me fat?

As any husband knows, answering THAT question is a minefield.

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